Capital Metro took a step Monday toward electrifying its bus fleet with the announcement of the location of a new bus-charging facility under construction in North Austin.
“This is it!” Cap Metro CEO Randy Clarke said as a demolition crew tore down the site’s previous tenant, an old mattress factory. “We’re knocking down an old facility … to build the bus fleet facility of the future.”
Clarke said the charging station, which will be able to house 200 electric buses, will be highly automated.
“A bus can pull in, sit in the charge facility, determine when it’s the cheapest or most sustainable to charge, and then leave to go park itself,” he said.
But as the agency touted its commitment to going electric, it signed off on the purchase of 29 new diesel-fueled buses at a board meeting later in the day. It currently has a fleet of about 425 buses – all running on diesel.
Clarke described the purchase as a necessary part of replacing old vehicles and said it would be the last time the agency bought diesel-powered buses.
“’You hear people say, ‘Just go and buy electric buses today!’ Well, you can buy some, but you need the facility to charge [them] as well," he said, "so it’s kind of hand-in-glove between infrastructure and vehicles, and we’re doing this in a very strategic way."
On top of committing $15.5 million to buy the diesel buses, the transit agency also spent around $11 million for its first order of 10 electric ones.
The agency does not have an estimate for how much the completed charging facility will cost to build, saying it's at the beginning of the design phase.
Likewise, it’s unclear where the money will come from for future electric buses. Cap Metro says it hopes to get some funds from the Texas Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Program.
Mariette Hummel, a spokesperson for the agency, said it is identifying “the grants we need to make it all work.”
The purchase of those 10 electric vehicles puts Cap Metro among a growing number of cities looking to electrify their fleets to fight air pollution and lower operating costs.
A study by the Texas Public Interest Research Group found that Cap Metro will save roughly $200,000 per electric vehicle over the lifetime of the bus compared to diesel-fueled vehicles.
“An electric bus has roughly 90 percent fewer moving pieces compared to a traditional combustion engine,” said Bay Scoggins, director of the consumer group TexPIRG. “Fewer things can go wrong.”
But it was the benefit to the environment that transit officials and local politicians highlighted as they announced the future charging station.
Beyond reducing emissions harmful to public health, Clarke said going electric is a way to battle global warming.
“It’s important to acknowledge on Earth Day that climate change is real and it's happening,” he said. “And everyone has to do their part and Cap Metro’s part is to build the most sustainable fleet possible.”